Overcoming Stage Fright

24th May


Learning by doing

overcoming-stage-frightOne of the best ways to educate yourself in the complex art and skills of guitar playing is without a doubt to play with other musicians or perform in front of an audience.

When you interact with others, you learn to listen, adapt and improvise. You also get a better feel for rhythm and tempo, volume adjustments and playing for the song rather than to “impress” with your skills. The single most important guitar lesson is perhaps this: To understand the art of standing back – when not to play or what not to play :-)

Sure, you can accomplish quite a lot of these things while you play with others in your basement or garage, or in front of a few selected friends. However, there’s even more to gain from bringing your act to a live stage – either alone with your guitar or with a band or group.

Causes of stage fright

“Hang on just a second! Just the thought of performing gives me the shivers,” I can almost hear some of you shouting – and rightfully so. The thought of stepping up to the platform and delivering a speech, playing to a group of people, doing an audition or being on a live stage can be enough to send even the bravest amongst us for cover.

Is public speaking natural for an individual? Heck not – I dare say that fear of public speaking or entertaining is far more natural. Deep down, most of us (perhaps all of us) are flock animals. Only a select few amongst us is comfortable to take the spotlight like it’s second nature.

This fear of performing has basically two sides to it – the external and the internal. The external is the situation itself – the lack of control; the unfamiliar setting and the pressure to deliver the goods to a group of people you don’t know, the feeling of being measured and tested.

The internal is the set of physical, emotional and cognitive (though) processes which seems to give you the jitters – literally.

The belly of the beast?

First, Let’s look at the situation objectively. Is an audience there to  stare you down, laugh at your efforts, criticize your guitar playing, frown upon any bum notes, smile at your week guitar sound and talk about your “obvious beginner guitar skills”? Of course not! They are there to have a good time.

And you know what. Here’s a little “secret” which is also explained in one of the videos below. The audience wants to help you; they want you to succeed! Why is that? Simply because total failure is embarrassing to watch… So just go in there and play your guitar loud and proud! Apart from the occasional ignorant village idiot (there’s at least one in every crowd), people really want the best – for you as well as themselves.

And that punk who always seems to find some negative thing to say about your performance? Just smile or ignore him. He’s just an envious and jealous figure really not worthy of your energy.

Practice makes perfect

The more prepared you are, the better things usually works out. This goes with everything: From having spares of everything (strings, picks, effects, guitars, leads, fuses etc.) almost down to an extra guitar amp – to having a well rehearsed set under your skin.

It is vital to acknowledge that your not there to be impressive or to show off. If you do, then you forget to focusing on the two things that matters, 1. the task (your songs), and 2. the audience.

Stick to your game plan!

When you’re only focusing on the task at hand, which is to play the guitar just like you have down to a T, then everything else seems to fall into place almost like magic.

So again, forget about doing impressive new stuff or showing off your deadly guitar tapping skills while doing back flips. Your there to play electric guitar, remember? When you take care of the songs and lean on the things you have prepared, then things usually clicks into place.

What if everything bombs?

Another wise saying from the video below is to put things in perspective. It’s just music, you know. If things go wrong, then so what? Just smile, be cool about it and walk on.

As long as you care for doing your best and try to be there for the audience, then people will forgive even the most crazy mistakes. And you know what? Most people don’t realize it if you play something wrong anyhow.

Did you miss a beat, forget a verse, sing the wrong text, forget to come in a the right moment, even fall of the stage..? Don’t worry! One in a hundred (usually other musicians) will notice something wrong is going on. And here’s the best part: Those who notice, has been there themselves – they will definitely not make a scene about it.

The stress reactions – utilizing the energy

Many inexperienced performers has no clue as to what goes on in their body when they are about to perform. The jitters, shaking legs, sweating, needing to go to the bathroom, nausea, thundering heart… It’s all natural and designed to be!

In a nutshell, this is our evolution which has given us the fight or flight response. And here’s another kicker. We don’t perform better in spite of these seemingly weird things which goes on inside of us. Oh no, we perform better because of it!

This is an enormous pool of energy which is there to help you. Just acknowledge that these reactions are healthy, natural and beneficial. Then take the energy and run with it!  This is perhaps the best stage fright tips I can give you: To trust in this positive energy.

Make sure you watch the video down below about singing and breathing. It shows the importance of controlling your “nerves” and stage fright with the help of proper breathing technique. Good stuff!

Look – don’t look!

Another thing that a beginner live musician or other performer might be tempted to do, is to try (or want) to look at individuals in the audience. Some times an inexperienced performer may even be scared when he/she finds that you really don’t see them but they can see you, because of the stage light.

In either case, you forget that you need to to embrace the whole audience as an entity. By all means, dedicate or deliver your song to someone special but always perform it to everyone in the room!

If you can’t see the audience then just concentrate on your task – on playing the guitar and on the song. If you see anyone in the audience, just defocus (one of the videos below explains how). You can also move your eyes slowly all over the room, or look to the back of the room as if you want to draw everyone closer to the stage.

Don’t worry – be happy!

By working on your performance and taking in the various stage fright tips found on this page and the videos below, you should be one your way to overcoming stage fright even if it may seem as likely as winning the Oscar right now.

Remember, all performers have performance anxiety or stage fright to some extent. In essence, it’s all natural, all manageable and all good. After all, since we can’t get rid of stage fright all together, why not go with the flow and benefit from it? :-)

To wrap things up for you, here are a couple of good, to-the-point videos about dealing with stage fright and the fear of public speaking.

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